Consent - An Introduction (if you like)

Content note: consequences of sexualized violence & mention of rape.

Have you ever made love, kissed or touched someone? What was it like the last time you were intimate with someone, or how would you imagine it? What person are you thinking about? What did you do? Did you really feel like doing it? Did the other person feel like it? Would you have liked to be asked, or would you rather not? Did you talk about what you were going to do in advance? Did you ask before you did something with the other person? Why, why not?
We will be looking at consent in sexual contexts in November. Last December we introduced it as follows:

Consent is the voluntary agreement of two or more persons to do something (sexual) together. It is the basis of sexual acts, because only unilateral consent means sexualized violence¹ or rape.
In practice, consent is often not very easy at all. Even our definitions of a sexual act are very individual. Cuddling, kissing, groping, are these sexual acts for you? And how do I talk about it anyway? 

Consent is done primarily verbally, but can also be given non-verbally after agreement. Maybe you like being asked over and over again when it gets more intense, maybe you find it unsexy, maybe totally hot. Part of consent is also talking about how you want to communicate consensuality. It's important here to not just talk about needs "in bed". After all, when you're "in the moment," things often happen very quickly and many people have a hard time communicating their desires and feelings.
But the following applies without ambiguity: No means No. And "I don't know", "maybe later", "wait" or silence also means No. Only unambiguous, voluntary consent without coercion means yes. Coercion does not only mean physical force. Coercion can also be exerted through power imbalances, such as an employment relation, a relationship or financial dependence, which are endangered by refusal. You should always think about such power imbalances beforehand. And consensual sexual acts in the past are also not a Yes.

For consent, it is important to become aware of one's own preferences, needs and boundaries. For many people, this is not so easy. For example, it is part of female socialization² to put aside one's own boundaries and needs or to subordinate them to those of cis men. In addition, many people have experiences of sexual boundary violations, which often lead to lasting changes in their approach to sexuality. Therefore, in order to practice consent, it can be helpful for some people to talk about such experiences. However, don't expect this from your sex partner. Each person has individual strategies for dealing with trauma. Especially as a person who has not experienced sexual violence, you should be aware of how many have and what kind of emotional backpack your partner may have to carry.

But we think consent is more than asking for and giving approval. To have sex that all parties really want, it often (but of course not always) takes much more. Consent can also mean shared responsibility, questioning societal perceptions, or repeatedly taking an honest look at oneself.
At the same time, the principle of consent has its limits. We live in patriarchal structures that are also systematically maintained through sexual violence. Therefore, we cannot expect to break these structures and power dynamics simply by communicating more. But more on that next month.

❓Questions for reflection

  • How do you define consent?
  • What are sexual acts for you?
  • Have you ever thought about consent?
  • How do you want to implement consent?
  • Have you ever talked about consent with your partner or people you have been with?
  • Do you also talk about sex and consent when you are not "in bed"?
  • Do you find it easy to talk about sexual acts?
  • Which sexual acts or physical interactions do you ask about first, and which ones might you not? Why, why not?
  • Which sexual acts or physical interactions would you like to be asked about beforehand?
  • In which contexts (e.g. one night stand, committed partnership,...) do you ask for consent before sexual acts, and in which do you not?
  • How do you know what the other person wants to do? How do you tell the other person what you want to do?
  • Has your silence ever been misunderstood as consent? Do you think you have ever misunderstood another person's silence as consent?
  • Have you ever tried to persuade a person to do something they were hesitant about?
  • Have you ever tried to create situations in such a way that you get an excuse to touch people? Especially from people who you think would say "no" if you asked them? e.g. dancing, getting drunk, falling asleep next to them, etc.
  • How do you behave differently when you have been drinking alcohol? Do you try to find consent in the same way as when sober?
  • How do you react when a person is uncomfortable with what you are doing or does not want to do something?
  • Do you sometimes feel obliged to have sex?

ℹ️ Explanation of terms:

¹sexualized violence: see explanation in july

²Socialization: Socialization is thus the adaptation to social patterns of thought and feeling through internalization of social norms. Socialization is a social science term.